What follows is live blogging of President Barack Obama’s Oval Office speech on the Gulf oil spill, the government’s response to it, plans for dealing with the worst oil spill in U.S. history, what is expected of British Petroleum and the larger context of America’s energy policy.
Note that these are quick first impressions — and in future analysis, upon reflection, I may reach a different conclusion. These impressions will be of the content of the speech, political impact, and how he is delivering it as a communicator. Comments will listed in chronological order — and your comments are welcome on District TMV (click on the link below). These comments are not being made to help or hurt Obama or help or hurt the Democratic party but quick impresssion (and we will only make a few after watching a patch of the speech):
5:04 PST: Good beginning adding the background and context. There is something about an Oval Office speech that envelopes any President in a larger aura than a press conference, stump speech, TV appearance (and certainly an appearance on Letterman or Leno). The question is why Obama has used this useful political tool so sparingly.
5:06 PST: “No matter how effective our response is” there will be more damage. Only part of this story has really hit. it’s likely we will be treated to worse news in coming weeks. He recounts his talks to locals and notes their “wrenching anxiety” about losing their lifetstyle. He starts to talk about account he’ll insist BP set up to (partially) compensate people. This means if the meeting is a fizzle with BP’s bigwig he will have problems. The stakes are raised for him and the government.
5:08 PST: Talks about other parts of his response plan. Starting to talk about “new limited offshore drilling” — something the political fates decided to stick him with. Explains a “national commission” and the six month moratorium on offshore drilling. “We need to know the facts before we allow deepwater drilling to continue”. This should not be anathema to anyone (but it is the political season so he may get some criticism for this). So far it is a decent Oval Office speech. Not overpowering. Unless there is some big change I would guess it won’t hurt him but will not solve his image problem…because image now will be formed by results.
5:11 PST: Explaining why oil companies have to drill offshore. This won’t be welcome to those who don’t want any offshore drilling. Now getting into how “the path foward has been blocked” by “a lack of political courage and candor” and “lobbyists.” He notes that the “consquences” of this are now in sight — the threat to life on the Gulf, and how China and other countries are making the shift the US has not been making. A pitch for a “clean energy” policy. An attempt at a JFK type call that “now” is the time. But the political situation is so polarized now in the United States the content and wisdom or lack of it for this kind of policy right now will likely get lost as partisans defend him and his political foes go after him. He talks about seizing the moment and acting together as one nation. Is that possible now — and particularly in an election year?
5:15 PST Says we cannot afford to change the way we produce our energy and what we use. Again he says he’s open to all ideas (will talk show hosts of the left and right offer concrete suggestions or will they just defend or attack? Place your bets in Vegas…and I know an easy one to place). Says he will not tolerate inaction. Prediction: he might prepare himself to get ready to not tolerate. Good delivery for an Oval Office speech. Not too “hot” not too perfunctory.
5:18 PST: Closing about praying for a good solution, etc.
5:19 PST: Initial impression (which could change as I think about it and read and analyze): Not a bad speech. Not bad at all for an Oval Office speech (Oval Office speeches tend to be more formal). But he didn’t detail how as a President and Commander in Chief he can use certain powers on various facets of this crisis. He put himself out on the limb in predicting a lot of the oil will be collected.
1. Short on some needed specifics. The lack of specifics will hurt him with many analysts — icluding those in
2. Didn’t use bully pulpit enough to hammer home his role as President: he is the Commander in Chief. Not stressed enough.
3. Too low key to reassure many people.
4. Too low key to substantially move his numbers.
5. Not the kind of speech you would have expected from JFK, RFK, Ronald Reagan, or even the first George Bush.
–If things get worse or remain the same, it will be viewed as a lost opportunity.
–If things go better than expected, it will be said that he understated government efforts and lowered expectations and that it was a smart move.
BOTTOM LINE: He did not do much to make people realize he is the Commander in Chief and not just the guy elected to be President. It’s hard to see how this increased his clout and/or made BP or politicians feel he is someone to whom they feel they must listen. He provided the context, explained the problem, vowed to make sure the crisis is resolved and restore any damage even if it takes years.
But it will not be a speech for the history books — or for political science students.
This was CNN’s advance story on the speech.
UPDATE: David Gergen, who is usually on the same wavelength with me on politics, is again on the same wavelength. He just said on CNN it wasn’t a bad speech but it wasn’t one to mobilize the country. Gloria Borger also on CNN notes that he used the language of war — and it was almost a powerpoint speech. “I don’t know how much inspiration this will give to people” but it was a speech that made it clear that he is holding some folks responsible.
UPDATE II: Here’s the video of the entire speech — so if you have not watched it you can watch it yourself and leave your own conclusions in District TMV, if you wish:
UPDATE III: In response to a reader’s question about Obama and Florida, here’s an AP report on Obama, Florida and polls on his performance. It notes that his numbers now mirror those of George W. Bush on Hurricane Katrina:
SOME INITIAL WEBLOG REACTION:
—The Daily Kos’ Jed Lewison:
I thought it was important that he said 90% of the spill would soon be contained and also that he implicitly pushed back on Bobby Jindal’s withering attacks on the Federal government, pointing out (but not by name) that Jindal has actually failed to use all of the resources made available to him.
My sense is that President Obama showed the most passion in the second part of the speech, in which he urged passage of legislation that would end our dependence on fossil fuels. He didn’t go into detail on specific provisions, but he made the case for the urgency of acting now….
…..It would have been very hard in this speech for President Obama to go into great detail on energy policy, and as a result, some will dismiss this as fluffy rhetoric. But I think he’s serious, and is setting the stage for a major push on energy reform.
—Pajamas Media’s Stephen Green did “drunkblogging” of the speech. Here is just a part of it (go to the link and read it in full):
5:16PM He won’t accept inaction! It’s not too big or too difficult to tax! Er, beat.
5:17PM Faith will power your car! Uh… you get out and push.
5:18PM The words are lofty, but — as always with this guy — let’s wait until we see the legislation. Oh, and just this once, I’d like my Congressman to see it before he has to vote on it. Pretty please?
5:19PM Well that was mercifully free of content.
5:20PM Seriously, I feel so unsatisfied.
5:20PM There wasn’t even enough meat to make proper fun of. Proper ass-kicking fun.
5:21PM I keep waiting for somebody else to come on TV, maybe a cabinet member, to read the real speech, the one that tells us… I dunno… stuff.
5:23PM Seriously, sorority girls have done the Walk of Shame home from frat parties feeling more satisfied.
5:24PM You just want to say, “I spent a quarter century conditioning my liver for this?”
* Look back in anger: As he has throughout his presidency, Obama made sure viewers knew that the problems with the Minerals Management Service — the government agency charged with overseeing offshore drilling — were not of his creation. He cast the lack of oversight that led to the BP spill as “emblematic of a failed philosophy that views all regulation with hostility”, a not-at-all veiled shot at the Bush Administration. And, just in case you missed the point, Obama added this: “Oil companies showered regulators with gifts and favors, and were essentially allowed to conduct their own safety inspections and write their own regulations.” The only way he could have been more blatant about where he believes the fault really lies would be to note that former Vice President Dick Cheney is a former Halliburton executive.
* Too late to wait: Obama, as was expected, used the second half of his address to make the case for comprehensive energy reform with a single rhetorical point: waiting any longer just isn’t an option. “The time to embrace a clean energy future is now…now is the moment for this generation to embark on a national mission,” said Obama at one point. At another, he harshly warned: “The one approach I will not accept is inaction.” This strategic approach is similar to how the president and his senior aides tackled the health care debate — insisting that the time to kick the can down the road had passed. The question is whether that frame — act now, or else — is the right one in an electoral climate where members of the president’s own party are already nervous about what awaits them in November.
A White House official says the goal of the speech is simple: to convince people that Obama gets it, and that he’s doing everything in his power to fix it. On the small-medium-big scale, Obama went medium. Leaving out an explicit call for cap-and-trade was a deliberate choice, obviously. But Obama wants action on climate change, and the only way to wean our dependence off fossil fuels is to put a price on carbon. He did not make that explicit, as he has done before, to smaller audiences. He did not call upon Congress to make the political sacrifices necessary, and it may be difficult to reconcile his words, laced with an urgent tone, with the actions he is willing to put his weight behind. Whether he’s taken command of the response is immaterial now; it is now his spill to fix. Obama ran for office on the promise of restoring Americans’ faith in their government’s ability to solve modern problems. The economy aside, this is the biggest test of whether he can bend the curve of history in that direction. It may be too much to ask a president, even a president with near-imperial powers, to contain something that is uncontainable, but Obama has taken responsibility for doing so, and his follow-through will be vital.
HALPERIN’S TAKE: Best thing from the speech for Obama — it was well written and well delivered; he proved has the mechanics to use the Oval platform. Worst thing from the speech for Obama — the negative insta-reaction from conservatives across the board; by the President’s own reckoning and rhetoric, he needs Republicans to solve the long-term energy challenges.
A FEW TWEETS ON TWITTER:
A search for “Obama” gets some of these:
gmasters Obama inflation: This time in hopes about spill recovery – Assures Americans that BP will pay … http://bit.ly/cw7ONv
11 minutes ago via TweetDeck
blueduck37 RT @BPGlobalPR: America is addicted to fossil fuels just like we’re addicted to money. Don’t poop in the punchbowl Obama.
11 minutes ago via web
RonPaulNot4Me RT @Heritage: President Obama’s message tonight was the wrong one. We need leadership,